What’s the Value of a Certification?

What’s the Value of a Certification?

We know to call a person “Doctor” if he or she has an MD by his name or do a small curtsy to a lady with the DBE (Dame of the British Empire) after her name, but do we really know what all the acronyms and certifications, that everyone is sporting on their business cards, mean? When hiring professionals, it’s useful to discover what certifications are available for their industries business and what they mean.

I often get asked about my CAE. It’s a special certification earned by Association Managers. The Certified Association Executive designation is a pain to get, but the hundreds of hours spent studying gave me a perspective on the industry that can only come from in-depth research, case studies and collaboration with colleagues. You read gripping novels like: The Association Law Handbook and Budgeting for Non-profits, but it was a proud day when I passed the exam and I got a cool pin and certificate. I’m not anxious to do that again, so I keep up my certification with continuing education classes.

So how do certifications work? Generally, you have to have been in the industry for a while to even qualify to study for an exam. To become a CMP (Certified Meeting Professional) you have to start with three years of full-time work in a related industry, 25 hours of continuing education and pass a written examination. To be a PHR (Professional Human Resource Manager) you are required to have 2 years of professional HR experience as well as a 4 hour long 225 multiple choice question exam within the areas of: Strategic Management, Workforce Planning and Employment, Human Resource Development, Employee and Labor Relations, Risk management and Total Rewards. If you are a financial planner you might want to study for your CFP (Certified Financial Planner), but you need a bachelor’s degree and then pass the 10-hour exam and background checks. No small feat!

It is important to be aware that in addition to the intensive study and stressful exam there is a cost. Most certification bodies charge to review your credentials that allow you to sit for an exam, there are study courses, books and materials and travelling to the exam. If you are lucky, an exam may be offered in your region, but it is possible you might have to fly to the exam site, so factor that in. Just like school, you hope you pass, but generally there is an opportunity to retake the test (at an additional fee, of course).

Similar to my CAE, the maintenance of your certification will be important, so study the recertification requirements. Usually they include more courses that come at a cost. Most groups charge a mandatory fee to review and approve your application for recertification. Also factor in the cost of joining the statewide or national association, which might slightly lower the cost and make materials more accessible.

Should you get a certification in your field? Would it help your career? If you are settled in your job and want to continue your professional advancement, but don’t want to continue (or pay for) additional university degrees, this might be an option. The specified training and chance to associate with colleagues can make this a rare opportunity. You are essentially “forced” to cover all aspects of your profession and might find a niche you didn’t know you loved or at least become exposed to challenging scenarios that might come your way. There is no guarantee, however, that it will make you tremendously more marketable. In my experience, it is up to you to educate potential clients and customers about your certification and how it gives you the competitive advantage. Ultimately, it is the enhanced knowledge of your industry that will get you the promotion or the client, so use it.

As I write this, I am attending a two-day training on fundraising and donor cultivation, so even though I am missing a little work, I can add 12 hours of continuing education towards my CAE certification!